Promote Health and Well-Being  

the WBDG Productive Committee


Indoor environments have strong positive effects on occupant well-being and functioning, especially attributes such as the amount and quality of light and color, the sense of enclosure, the sense of privacy, access to window views, connection to nature, sensory variety, and personal control over environmental conditions. Designing to enhance psychological well-being will therefore have positive impacts on work effectiveness and other high value outcomes, such as stress reduction, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Office of the World Resources Institute
Federal Center South Building 1202

The office of the World Resources Institute utilizes a mixture of elements to provide a healthy work environment.
Photo Credit: Alan Karchmer Courtesy of HOK

Central commons bathed in natural daylight flanked by open-plan workstations located along the perimeter of the Federal Center South Building 1202.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Benschneider

To reap the fiscal, physical, and psychological benefits of healthy buildings, projects must have a comprehensive, integrated design and development process that seeks to:

Indoor environments also strongly affect human health. For example, the EPA estimates that the concentration of pollutants (like volatile organic compounds) inside a building may be two to five times higher than outside levels. A 1997 study by W.J. Fisk and A.H. Rosenfeld (Estimates of Improved Productivity and Health from Better Indoor Environments. Indoor Air Vol. 7, pp. 158–172) reports that the cost to the nation's workforce of upper respiratory diseases in 1995 was $35 billion in lost work plus an additional $29 billion in health care costs. The study estimates that more healthful indoor environments could reduce these costs by 10%–30%.

Implementing sustainable design principles will also help achieve these objectives.


Provide Maximum Access to Natural Daylight and Views to the Outdoors

Owens Corning World Headquarters—Toledo, OH

Daylight enhances the psychological value of space at Owens Corning World Headquarters—Toledo, OH.
Photo Credit: Owens Corning

Provide Superior Ventilation

  • Design the ventilation system to exceed ASHRAE Standard 62.1: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.
  • Minimize recirculation while assuring energy efficiency through energy recovery. See also WBDG High-Performance HVAC.
  • Ensure that ventilation air is effectively delivered to and distributed throughout the 'breathing zone.' Consider individual controls.
  • Provide local exhaust for restrooms, kitchens, janitor's closets, copy rooms, etc.
  • Consider installing CO2 sensors to provide real time monitoring of air quality.
  • Consider separating thermal conditioning from ventilation in order to vary delivery of air volume separate from temperature for better comfort.
  • See also WBDG Natural Ventilation.

Control Sources of Indoor Air Contamination

  • Test the site for sources of contamination: radon, hazardous waste, fumes from nearby industrial or agricultural uses. See also WBDG Air Decontamination.
  • Locate air intakes away from sources of exhaust fumes (e.g. from buses, cars, or trucks).
  • Consider security implications of the location of building air intakes.
  • Consider recessed grates, "walk off" mats, and other techniques to reduce the amount of dirt entering the building.
  • Specify green products and materials and furnishings that are low emitters of indoor air contaminants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Allow adequate time for installed materials and furnishings to "outgas" before a new workplace is occupied. Assist the process by running the HVAC system continuously at the highest possible outdoor air supply setting after materials and furnishings have been installed to adequately "flush out" the facility. (The exact timing may vary for different materials and different environmental conditions.)
  • Consider "modular zoning" for air distribution in order to avoid cross contamination, including providing mail handling center with a separate ventilation system.
  • Install proper barriers between occupied and construction zones in renovation projects in order to protect worker health.

Prevent Unwanted Moisture Accumulation

  • Design the ventilation system to maintain the indoor relative humidity between 30% and 50%.
  • Design to avoid water vapor condensation, especially on walls and the underside of roof decks, and around pipes or ducts or windows.
  • Design buildings with proper drainage and ventilation.
  • See also WBDG Mold and Moisture Dynamics and Air Barrier Systems in Buildings.

Enhance the Psychological Effects of Space

  • Design to allow workers to move freely from solitary work to group action as work requires.
  • Provide mobile technologies (phones, computers, wireless connectivity) that support new work styles and work practices.
  • Design to reduce stress and facilitate mental rest breaks.
  • Provide workers the means to make meaningful changes in their immediate environments (e.g. through personalization and control over the immediate environment to the extent possible).
  • Provide spatial features that support visual and acoustical privacy but allow opportunities for informal encounters.
  • Provide an interesting visual environment and, at the same time, design for a balance between visual access and visual enclosure. Provide views of natural vegetation, indoors or outdoors, when possible.
  • Strive to create a 'sense of place' such that the workplace has a unique character that engenders a sense of pride, purpose, and dedication for individual workers and the workplace community.
Photo of people sitting in the large courtyard area

Large glass areas at the DPR Construction Phoenix Regional Office connect occupants to the exterior courtyard where vertical steel screens, draped in vines, help to filtering light, air and dust, screen views of adjacent parking and bring nature into view. These features create 2,600 square feet of outdoor wellness space and extend the areas yearly use.

Relevant Codes and Standards

  • WELL Building Standard—A certification system of the International Well Building Institute focused on health and well-being.

Additional Resources

Provide Maximum Access to Natural Daylight

Provide Superior Ventilation

Control Sources of Indoor Air Contamination

Prevent Unwanted Moisture Accumulation

Enhance the Psychological Effects of Space

  • Architecture as Space, How to Look at Architecture by Bruno Zevi. Edited by Joseph Barry. New York: Horizon Press, 1974.
  • The Changing Concept of Proportion by Rudolph Wittkower. Daedalus (Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). Vol. 89, pp. 199-215. 1960.
  • "Design, Productivity and Well-Being: What are the Links?" by Judith H. Heerwagen. Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Seattle, WA—paper presented at The American Institute of Architects Conference on Highly Effective Facilities, Cincinnati, Ohio, March 1998.
  • DG 1110-3-122 Design Guide for Interiors (p.2.1), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Environmental Design Research Association
  • Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition by Kimberly Elam.
  • A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein. Oxford University Press: 1977.
  • The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William Whyte, 1980. Washington, DC: Conservation Foundation.
  • Space, Time, and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (3rd edition) by Sigfried Giedion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954.
  • Space Versus Place: The Loss and Recovery of Proportionality in Architecture by Terrance Galvin.
  • VA Interior Design Manual 
  • UFC 3-120-10 Interior Design